“Mark’s getting his violin out. Now we’re in trouble.”
Recorded: Pluto Studio, Manchester, mid-1983 (Tempo House recorded live at the Hacienda, Manchester on 27 July 1983)
Released: 5 December 1983
- Mark E Smith – vocals, piano, violin
- Craig Scanlon – guitar, vocals
- Steve Hanley – bass
- Paul Hanley – drums, keyboards
- Karl Burns – drums, bass
- Brix Smith – guitar, vocals (Eat Y’self Fitter / Hotel Bloedel)
The second half of 1982 saw the final deterioration of the Smith-Riley relationship. One point of contention was Riley inviting his girlfriend to attend gigs on the December 1982 UK tour; Smith reacted both directly (telling Riley that he’d been ‘shit because you were fussing round your girlfriend all night, not concentrating on playing’)1 and by crossing her name off the guest list2.
Smith devotes a fair bit of Renegade to disparaging Riley. According to him, for example, ‘if it had been left up to him… Grotesque and Hex would have sounded like mediocre Buzzcocks LPs’3; ‘he was getting out of hand: wanting to do Totally Wired twice a night, playing Container Drivers with his cowboy hat on and all that kind of thing’4. In comparison, Riley’s contribution to Dave Simpson’s The Fallen is pretty measured and respectful: ‘If you’re going to work with someone like that you’re just going to have to put up with it, he’s made more good decisions than bad ones and more great records than not so great ones.’5
There are varying accounts of how Riley came to leave the group. Smith’s account in Renegade – he rang Riley, unaware that was his wedding day, and then said: ‘Congratulations mate, and by the way you’re sacked’6 – seems to be another one of MES’s more disingenuous moments. (For a start, this phone call actually took place during Steve Hanley’s wedding.) Looking at all the sources, the Wikipedia version seems to offer a pretty fair summary:
‘Riley was actually married on Christmas Eve 1982 and remained in The Fall until January 1983, when Smith met Riley in the Old Garrett pub, Princess Street, and told him that the group was undertaking a European tour without him and should it not work out he would be asked back.’
Whatever the reasons, The Fall’s 22 December gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester was Riley’s last.
After a brief February European tour, the group recorded their sixth Peel session in March – featuring Smile, Garden, Hexen Definitive/Strife Knot and Eat Y’self Fitter – before going back into a ‘swanky’7 London studio to record their new single. The Man Whose Head Expanded was, thanks to Kamera’s impending financial implosion and Geoff Travis’ apparent rehabilitation in Smith and Kay Carroll’s eyes, to be released on Rough Trade.
It opens with some tinny electronic ‘plinking’ courtesy of Paul Hanley’s new Casio keyboard (‘He’s always fiddling away with its little buttons, programming it to make all sorts of annoying noises.’8) which leads into a dark, weird, yet strangely funny tale of paranoia and plagiarism. The eponymous man is some sort of author who becomes convinced that a ‘soap opera writer’ is stealing his ‘jewels’ for prime-time TV.
Steve Hanley provides the driving force musically; a bouncy yet darkly ominous bass line that’s fleshed out expertly with some almost jazzy runs up and down the scale (e.g. at 0:53) and a few other quite flamboyant excursions away from the main rhythm. After MES’s stuttering, hilarious command to ‘turn that bloody blimey Space Invader off!’ at 1:29, Craig Scanlon steps forward and proffers, at first, some languorous, distorted chords; as the tempo picks up he throws in a little bit of frenetic thrash, but then he withdraws his guitar for a minute or so before providing some jerky, angular work over the last thirty seconds or so. He populates that guitar-free minute or so (between 2:42-3:55), with some intriguing keyboards: gentle, floating, tinkling organ/electric piano, free-jazz atonal chords.
The b-side, Ludd Gang, is not unpleasant but is a little plodding and uninspired; it’s most notable for its surprisingly threatening attitude towards Shakin’ Stevens. Expanded was a popular choice in 1982-85 setlists, clocking up 70 appearances (it made a one-off reappearance in 2007); Ludd Gang was performed 68 times 1982-84.
In April, the group embarked on a month-long North American tour. After the recent departure of one their longest-serving members, two further significant events occurred on the tour. Firstly, Kay Carroll severed her links with the group. After arriving late after having problems with her visa, an incident after the Boston gig on the 17 April (where she was refused service in a bar) seems to have been the tipping point that led her to grab the tour money and leave9. She settled in New Jersey and later moved to Oregon. When interviewed by Dave Simpson for The Fallen, she said that her main regret was ‘that I didn’t hit him more’, but also commented that, ‘some weeks I wouldn’t go near it, some weeks I wish I’d never left, others I’d go back in a heartbeat’.10 Simon Ford summarises11 her contribution by saying:
…it’s difficult to say that anyone, apart from Smith, was indispensable to The Fall, but Carroll came mighty close. When others floundered or became hesitant she pushed through with a driving force, energetically hectoring the band to maintain its uncompromising attitude.
And then there was Brix. Born Laura Elisse Salenger, but taking her name from The Clash song Guns of Brixton, she first met MES after The Fall’s Chicago gig on 23 April. After having become obsessed with Slates, her first impression of the group12 was:
They were five normal-looking English blokes. These guys were the antithesis of rock stars. There were no gimmicks or contrivances. This band were a law unto themselves: mighty and brutal, unforgiving, honest and utterly brilliant.
Her first impression of Smith himself was that there was ‘something a little scary about him… he seemed angry, as if a simmering rage lay just below the surface’13. The story of the beginnings of their relationship is, unsurprisingly, covered in some detail14 in her book The Rise The Fall And The Rise. Briefly: a post-gig drink led to a party which led to them spending a large amount of time together on the rest of the tour, which led to her coming to England in May 1983 and them marrying on the 19 July.
Brix’s influence on The Fall (both musically and sartorially) is a subject of great debate for some; and for a vocal minority, a real bone of contention. As she only appeared on two PBL tracks, I’ll leave that discussion for future posts. The group themselves seem to have been bemused rather than hostile in their reaction to her sudden appearance. Steve Hanley describes being quite impressed by her knowledge of Joy Division lyrics15 and the positive impact she appeared to have on Smith’s conduct16:
We then undergo what is probably the most good-natured soundcheck I’ve ever experienced. It’s all ‘Steve, would you mind turning your amp down a little? Could I have just a tad more vocals in the monitors? Thank you.”
In September 1983, the group released one of their most iconic singles. Kicker Conspiracy was a football song, but one a million miles away from what the record-buying public had come to associate with football-related music. (For the benefit of non-UK readers, there are some of the more execrable examples here, here and here.) Containing references to Jimmy Hill, Bert Millichip and George Best, Smith – nearly twenty years before Roy Keane derided the ‘prawn sandwich brigade – it ‘detailed the early signs of the corruption and greed that would almost destroy the national sport in the coming years’17.
It’s easy (especially for those lucky enough to be in their 30s or younger) to forget how divorced from much of the rest of popular culture football was back in the early 80s. These days, any career-minded landfill indie combo takes care to express their devotion to both the national team and a club side, often utterly glibly and superficially – a phenomenon cynically and expertly dissected by the genius that is Nigel Blackwell on Rock & Roll is Full of Bad Wools (‘Do you ever get to Roots Hall? / Which to him means f*ck all’). But when Kicker Conspiracy came out, seven years before Gazza wept before the nation and it all became about prawn sandwiches and opera, liking football – if you aspired to be taken seriously regarding music, politics, art or literature – was a dirty secret. Nobody made reference to their team’s relegation/promotion in their NME interview; football was nasty hooligans, bad fashion and a tawdry working-class lack of aspiration. Which makes Kicker yet another example of Smith standing out from the crowd (if you’ll pardon the pun).
Leaving all this aside, it’s a remarkable song anyway; a rickety, ragged rockabilly blast that features some absolutely genius drumming. The title refrain sounds like nothing else on earth; a collision of rhythms where MES has no right to fit in those six syllables in the time available. It was also the first Fall song to have a promotional video, featuring Smith miming into a beer can:
Kicker was released as a double 7″, the second disc featuring Container Drivers and New Puritan from the third Peel session. Wings, which had been played live throughout 1983, backed the lead song. Described on the A-Z as a ‘convoluted but fascinating story of a time traveller’, it’s underpinned by a grinding riff that many consider to be one of The Fall’s best.
In November, the 7″ of Marquis Cha Cha (backed with Room To Live), originally scheduled for September 1982, was finally released. The current going rate for this single, according to Discogs, is nearly £140.
In The Wider World…
In the month that Perverted was released, the House of Lords voted to allow television broadcast of its proceedings; an IRA bomb outside Harrods killed six people. Billy Joel’s five week stay at the top of the singles chart with Uptown Girl was ended by The Flying Pickets’ Yazoo cover, Only You. A couple of weeks after PBL‘s release, the first instalment in the Now That’s What I Call Music series became the top-selling album in the UK, featuring such delights as UB40’s Red Red Wine, Kajagoogoo’s Too Shy, Howard Jones’ New Song and Mike Oldfield’s Moonlight Shadow. What a joy it was to be a teenager in the early 80s…
The Fall Live In 1982-83
The group played nine UK gigs in December 1982. New songs continued to emerge: Garden, Pilsner Trail and Ludd Gang all made their first appearances.
The first post-Riley gig, at Leeds Warehouse in January 1983, saw debuts for Kicker Conspiracy and Words of Expectation. In February, the group played ten dates in Switzerland and The Netherlands. After a London gig in March – which saw the first performances of Smile and Eat Y’self Fitter – The Fall embarked on their 15-date month-long tour of North America.
Long Island, New York, April 7, 1983 (© Bill McDermott)
The group returned to Iceland at the beginning of May for a one-off gig in Reykjavik. This was released in 2001 as Austurbaejarbio. The album features most of the songs from the gig, although Ludd Gang and Wings are missing.
It’s a soundboard recording that is far better in terms of basic sound quality than many Fall live albums. That said, there’s something curiously unsatisfying about it to these ears; it has an oddly empty, hollow feel. The opening to The Classical, for example, is one of the limpest versions of the song that I’ve heard. Throughout, MES sounds strangely divorced from all that’s happening around him and the guitar is thin and brittle. It’s easier on the ears than many Fall live albums, but is not one that really captures the group particularly well.
The Fall played a further 39 gigs in 1983, clocking up a total of 68 for the year. In the Autumn gigs, C.R.E.E.P., 2 x 4, Clear Off! and Pat Trip Dispenser made their first appearances; Oh! Brother (which had up to this point only featured in Tony Friel’s farewell gig as captured on Live 77) also reappeared, in a greatly revamped form.
Leaving Kamera to go back to Rough Trade was a wrench for Smith: ‘We had to leave Kamera because we knew it was going down… It broke my heart. Only label I was upset to leave.’18 More importantly than the change in label, Steve Hanley saw a change in the group’s sound, post-Riley: ‘I’m beginning to see how things are going to shape up without Marc in the band: looser and more weird.’19 This was to some extent echoed by MES in an interview with Zigzag in November 1983:
There’s a lot more beauty on this new LP. Some of the new songs aim straight at the heart. It’s still aggressive in a way though. ‘Room to Live’ was aiming somewhere else. It wasn’t about emotion as such, but it was supposed to be looser in form than anything we had done before. ‘Perverted by Language’ is a lot funnier as well. We craft everything much better these days. Seriousness and humour are blended together more now.
The cover was a departure too. After the slogan-scrawl dominated covers of Slates, Hex and Room To Live, Perverted featured a nightmarish painting by Claus Castenskiold, an old school friend of Brix.
The album was recorded at Manchester’s Pluto Studios. Steve Hanley didn’t find this studio ‘swanky’, describing it as ‘decor-wise… on its arse’.20 Owned by the former Herman’s Hermits guitar player Keith Hopwood and Derek Leckenby, Pluto was originally built in 1968 in Stockport but moved to Manchester in 1977. The studio is still operated by Keith Hopwood but these days focuses on music for children’s TV.
When Brix had joined the group on tour in the second half of 1983 (acting as an unofficial roadie, helping out with the lighting, etc.), the rest of the group started a sweepstake as to when she would join them on stage21. However, it wasn’t until the recording of PBL that she really began to establish herself as part of the group, adding vocals to Eat Y’Self Fitter and contributing vocals, guitar and a song-writing credit to Hotel Bloedel. As Steve Hanley said: ‘So we were all wrong. Her way in is through the studio rather than the stage.’22
In the NME, Jim Shelley was less than impressed with PBL, describing the album as ‘slovenly’ and ‘self-satisfied’; ‘it’s The Fall plodding on, going nowhere, MAKING DO’. Dave McCullough, writing in Sounds, wasn’t any more positive, giving the album 2.5 stars and calling it ‘a pale zeroxing [sic] of [the] former Fall’ and ‘laborious and very dull indeed’. Of course, those of us who were around in the 80s will remember that the music press had a habit of building up groups for a few years then smugly knocking them down again….
McCullough’s review inspired Chris Southon to pen this response, printed in the Sounds letters page, which had a dig at the paper’s support for the burgeoning Smiths-led scene: ‘One can only assume that… the sheer force and humour of the record as a whole are beyond a man who seems happy enough the weedy, wet, pretty boy pop of the preposterous “handsome movement”.’ Whatever the NME and Sounds thought, Perverted gave the group their first independent chart number one since Grotesque.
(Thanks to Saveloy from The Fall Forum for the scans of the inner sleeve)
Eat Y’self Fitter
Fitter had been a common feature on the setlist since its debut back in March. Steve Hanley describes its origins in The Big Midweek: ‘Mark told us, “I’ve got a new song. I want der-de-der-de-de-der-de.” Once we made it aggressive enough for him, he started singing a line out of a cornflake advert.’23 (The line actually came from an All-Bran ad.)
Backed by an uncompromisingly basic and insistently simplistic staccato rhythm, and featuring one of the most ludicrous call and response choruses you’ll ever hear, Smith’s barked vocal takes in being refused entry to nightclubs, bafflement with technology (‘Where’s the cursor?’), Kevin Ayers (of Soft Machine) and the use of VCRs (‘And your bottom rack is full of vids of programs you will nay look at’). There’s also a disturbingly guttural, gargling backing vocal from Burns.
Steve Hanley’s recollections of recording the song24 describe how the engineer struggled to find a height for the microphone that would suit the diminutive Brix and the rest of the group; also the impact that her performance made: ‘We might be taller but she’s definitely louder than the rest of us put together. We’re doing our usual football-chant drone, but she’s layering psychedelic inflection all over it.’
Fitter was, famously, one of John Peel’s choices when he appeared on Desert Island Discs (it’s at 29:18, and worth listening to if only to hear Sue Lawley’s impeccably posh BBC voice say ‘The Fall and Eat Y’self Fitter’):
Over the past decade there’s been one band whose music has pleased me I think probably more than anyone else’s, and that’s been The Fall from Manchester. And they’re still around – I suppose they’re about the only band which actually does, sort of, last from one end of the decade to the other. Almost any of their records would give me great pleasure, but Eat Y’self Fitter is a particular favourite.
After being played consistently throughout 1983, Fitter‘s 43rd and final performance was in April 1984.
My long-suffering wife – who describes The Fall as ‘the worst band ever’ – made several unsolicited contributions to the Fi5 blog. She was particularly vociferous regarding this track, which she thinks epitomises everything that’s wrong with the group. To paraphrase: there’s no tune, it’s ridiculously repetitive, it goes on for far too long and the lyrics are stupid. And of course everything she says is absolutely, gloriously true. The world, I think, is divided into those who can’t help but see all those factors as being inevitably negative, and those who just… get it.
Neighbourhood of Infinity
After a brief, cymbal-heavy drum intro and a grinding, astringent rhythm guitar with some odd little background shrieks (that could be feedback or a hyperactive child on a descant recorder), MES fades in before being joined by typically rock-solid Hanley bass. Smith’s vocal is fragmented, disdainful; it references ‘cut-up technique’ and this seems to describe the sound of the lyrics, not just the words. The overall effect is of multiple ideas layered, shredded and mangled.
It settles into a greater state of equilibrium in the second half, but we’re never too far from the sudden intrusion of some booming tom-toms or a burst of frantic guitar thrash. Even by usual MES standards, the lyrics are utterly impenetrable (‘And visitor esoteric Jackanapes says analyser. Mr Alastair touched off the tragedy’), possibly explained by the use of ‘cut-up technique’ to which he refers.
It’s an intriguing song in several ways: inexplicably brief (always disappointing when it ends so soon), which makes it feel like a tantalising fragment of something more fully developed; Marc Riley gets a writing credit even though its first performance was seven months after he left the group; and it was dropped from the live set after only eleven outings. Plus, there’s an astonishingly dark and intense (despite the dubious sound quality) recording of its final performance in April 1984 that appears on In: Palace Of Swords Reversed that features MES ranting and raving about giant moths.
An intense, hypnotic triumph; it showcases perfectly the group’s utterly magnificent use of controlled repetition. The understated tom-toms underpin everything; Scanlon’s clanging guitar provides bite and attack; Steve Hanley is, as ever, matchless in the way he drives the song forward with deep, booming notes and beautifully-timed forays up the neck.
MES is on peerless form, painting a rich, mysterious and evocative picture of… well, it’s not entirely clear what, but it’s full of striking and powerful language: A three-legged black-grey hog; Small, small location on huge continent/sodomised by presumption; Less stylish porch, we have the second god’s influence; The second god lived by mountains that flowed by the blue shiny lit roads/had forgot what others still tried to grasp… (as ever, see The Annotated Fall for a detailed analysis). The mention of ‘brown baize’, according to Paul Hanley26 refers to the studio’s dated decor.
By the time PBL was recorded, Garden had had around 20 outings live; it stayed in the set until September 1984, making 60 appearances altogether.
In June 1983, when touring Germany, the group’s van broke down just outside Dachau and they ended up in the Hotel Bloëdel. The hotel had a ‘rancid’ odour (‘a reasonable smell of death’) and was disturbing enough to give MES nightmares. In the morning, Smith and Brix witnessed a member of staff carrying ‘a large, clear plastic bag of blood’25; it transpired that the hotel was next door to an abattoir.
Musically, the song is based on one of Brix’s old tunes from her old band Banda Dratsing, One More Time For The Record. During the recording of PBL, Brix largely retired to a separate room and ‘beaver[ed] away’ with her guitar27. However, with MES’s encouragement and some support from Steve Hanley, she sat down and ran through the song a few times, the take on the album being what she thought was just a rehearsal. MES added some lines about the hotel experience and some tuneless violin scrapes (‘Mark’s getting his violin out. Now we’re in trouble’28) .
The song (which was never played live) is notable for being Brix’s first major contribution to a Fall recording, and also for being the first time that anyone other than MES sang a lead vocal. But, for me, it really doesn’t work. There were many occasions where the contrast between Brix and MES’s vocals were a high point of the group’s sound, but here the effect is of a singer at a pub open-mic night being interrupted by a drunken punter. The guitar sound is unpleasantly thin and Brix’s vocal (remembering, to be fair to her, that she thought she was just rehearsing) is a little grating to these ears.
It is, of course, a foolish pursuit to try and ‘rank’ anything as diverse and complex as The Fall’s work – as Mr Peel said… Not that this has stopped me succumbing to the urge to do exactly that with each of these posts. Despite all of this, this track would always be in my top ten. In fact, whilst I was commemorating the anniversary of MES’s death (toasting his memory with a few glasses of wine in a Premier Inn in Bridgend) I couldn’t resist compiling a top 15 – ten was too hard – on Twitter, and I put it at no. 6. Some days it would be even higher.
A diatribe against the growing cocktail bar culture of the early 80s, it contains some of Smith’s trademark finely-turned phrases: ‘Lick-spittle southerner’; ‘special vexation process’. But while his vocal performance is excellent – a masterclass in controlled, snarling aggression (including a very rock ‘n’ roll ‘take it down’ at 2:41) – it’s the four musicians who make this such a towering classic. Paul Hanley and Karl Burns provide a taut, layered percussive assault; Scanlon’s guitar scratches and slashes feverishly; and Steve Hanley’s bass line is imperiously ferocious, even by his high standards.
By the time it was recorded for PBL, the song had only had a handful of live outings (it went on to clock up 59, the last being in July 1985), but it sounds like they’ve been playing it their whole career; utterly focused, completely together. It has a difficult, complex, almost stuttering rhythm that a lesser group might struggle to keep a hold of, but The Fall never lose their grip; focused, concise, sharp, piercing.
The song is captured incredibly well in the group’s first performance on national TV. Introduced by John Peel (‘a favourite of mine for a number of years… they’ve never been on national TV, which seemed to me to be shocking, so I quite wanted to go down in history as the man who put them on TV’) on The Tube, this is my second favourite video on YouTube (after the Palladium version of Blindness). It’s full of wonder: MES’s swaggering yet slightly awkward confidence; the telepathy between Burns and Paul Hanley as they batter the living daylights out of their kits in perfect synchronicity; and the sheer vehemence and energy with which Steve Hanley assaults his bass. And what a song to choose for your first appearance on national television: not Totally Wired or Container Drivers, but instead one of the most angular, intense and difficult (and not yet even released) songs they could have chosen.
I Feel Voxish
As Tommy Mackay notes, this is ‘nearly a catchy pop song’29. But not quite. More conventional in structure than many of the other songs on the album (it even has a chorus of sorts), it’s driven by a high-register Steve Hanley bass line and an almost off-hand descending Scanlon riff. Karl Burns also plays bass on this, contributing a deep, reverberating backing that lumbers into view at 1:30 and 2:11. There are also some random and tuneless keyboard splashes (e.g. at 2:37) that may well have been added by MES.
The choppy guitar work, throbbing bass and solid, insistent rhythm make this one of the more accessible songs on the album, but there’s still something angular and aggressive about it. Once again, Smith turns out a selection of intriguing phrases (‘A pillbox crisp / that French git / the spikes he left in the bathroom’; ‘Caught my life mould, give me silenced lectures’) without giving much of a clue as to what he’s on about.
After being a regular feature in sets in late 1982 and throughout 1983, its 58th and final performance was in November 1985.
The best Fall is based around simplicity and repetition, and Tempo House is a prime example: not much more than a languid, shuffling drumbeat and a simplistic four-note bass riff (C/G/Bb/F, should you be interested in that kind of thing). The percussion clatters and rambles, there are some dissonant keyboard stabs around halfway through, but basically it’s MES intoning over the bedrock that is Steve Hanley. Which is no bad thing. Hanley squeezes everything he can from such a basic riff; and Smith rambles as only he can about Richard Burton’s ‘chubby round jowls’, ‘the pedantic Welsh’ and Winston Churchill’s speech impediment.
Whilst the version on the album (live from the Hacienda, Manchester on 27 July 1983) is a perfectly decent recording, it’s frustrating that there wasn’t a ‘proper’ studio take released (I believe that such a thing exists, although I’ve never heard it.) According to Paul Hanley30 the reason for this was the that the bass sound on the album was ‘a little disappointing at times’, and since ‘the bass line was most of the song’ they went with a live version (some of which, he points out, often lasted twelve minutes or more).
An almost ever-present in 1982-83 setlists, Tempo racked up 69 appearances but wasn’t played beyond December 1983. The video below is the performance that’s on the album.
Hexen Definitive / Strife Knot
One of those definitive Fall song titles, Hexen is a lugubrious drawl of a song, underpinned by a lazy, chorus pedal-heavy Scanlon riff, that meanders along menacingly. Once again, Smith’s lyrics are opaque and mysterious but beautifully crafted and intriguing: ‘Blindfold so can’t feel maintenance / kickback art thou that thick?’; ‘While Greenpeace looked like saffron on the realm’; ‘Louis Armstrong tapes waft down the aisles’. The chord change at 3:55 is particularity melancholy and moving.
Played 95 times, 1982-85. A perfect choice for an album closer.
Reissues & Bonus Tracks
The 1998 Castle reissue included the 1983 singles, The Man Whose Head Expanded and Kicker Conspiracy (plus b-sides), as well as Pilsner Trail (a fairly unremarkable Fall-by-numbers two-chord thrash, which was originally titled Plaster On The Hands).
The 2005 Sanctuary reissue featured a second CD which included the tracks from the fifth Peel session plus a variety of live recordings. One of these was Perverted By Language: only played live four times, it features a drum barrage not unlike that on Hurricane Edward, but fades out suddenly just as it’s about to get interesting.
In 1984, the group produced their first commercial video, Perverted By Language Bis. The project was driven mainly by Brix’s enthusiasm; Rough Trade were less enthused about the idea, contributing only £500 towards the costs31. It contains various live performances plus the Kicker and Wings videos (see above). There’s also an entertainingly odd take on Fitter, featuring, amongst several other random things, the group sitting around a table mixing cocktails and some rather startling disco-dancing from Smith. There’s also an interview with a notably playful and humorous MES.
I mentioned above – with what I suspect was an easily-discernible roll of the eyes – the reaction of the contemporary music press to PBL. It’s hard to explain, considering the praise lavished upon Hex, how their opinion could have changed so much in eighteen months other than putting it down to their prevalent ‘build ’em up then knock ’em down’ attitude. The criticism directed at Room To Live was understandable, even if in retrospect it seems rather harsh. The notion that PBL saw The Fall lazily treading water is much less comprehensible. It’s an album of huge invention and contrasting textures and moods. It’s (almost) flawlessly sequenced and in Garden and Smile contains two of their greatest ever songs. Smith’s lyrical inventiveness continues to delight and astonish; obscure poeticism balanced with playful humour.
It’s not completely flawless: Fitter, excellent as it is, does sit slightly oddly at the beginning of the album; Neighbourhood feels just a little underdeveloped; Hotel is pedestrian compared to the rest of the album. (Plus, of course, it would have been great to have a proper studio version of Tempo House.) But these are minor quibbles. PBL strikes an (almost) perfect balance between the relentless onslaught of Hex and the ragged improvisation of Room To Live.
It’s often tempting with these things to just strip out the album tracks you don’t like and just bung in the singles that you do. My version would certainly include The Man Whose Head Expanded; not only is a great tune, but I think it suits the tone of the album perfectly. Kicker Conspiracy is, undoubtedly one of their greatest songs, but I think it’s one of those that works better as a stand-alone single. And, to be a little controversial, I think that Fitter would also have been a great ‘one-off’ single release. For me, Wings would have been a better candidate for the album.
So, we get a 45:53 album:
Side 1: Smile / I Feel Voxish / Wings / Garden (22:49)
Side 2: The Man Whose Head Expanded / Neighbourhood Of Infinity / Tempo House / Hexen Definitive-Strife Knot (23:04)
Albums: it’s very challenging to separate Hex and PBL. But there’s variety in tone and texture that just about tips things in the latter’s favour:
- Perverted By Language
- Hex Enduction Hour
- Room To Live
- Live At The Witch Trials
Singles: Kicker and Expanded are clear leaders at this point, the former getting the nod due to its sheer musical and lyrical uniqueness:
- Kicker Conspiracy
- The Man Whose Head Expanded
- How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’
- Totally Wired
- Marquis Cha-Cha
- Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
- Look, Know
- Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!
- Rowche Rumble
- Fiery Jack
- It’s The New Thing
Live Albums: Austurbaejarbio is a lot easier on the ears than many, but its rather ‘flat’ atmosphere places it mid-table:
- Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
- In A Hole
- A Part Of America Therein, 1981
- The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
- Totale’s Turns
- Live 1977
- Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany
- Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
- Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
- Liverpool 78
- Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
- Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
- Live At Deeply Vale
1The Big Midweek, p153
2The Big Midweek, p128
5The Fallen, p123
7-8The Big Midweek, p166
9The Big Midweek, p172
10The Fallen, p83
12-13The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise, p145
14The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise, pp147-179
15-16The Big Midweek, p180
19The Big Midweek, p165
20xThe Big Midweek, p187
21xThe Big Midweek, p181
22xThe Big Midweek, p189
23xThe Big Midweek, p188
24The Big Midweek, pp188-189
25The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise, p178
26Leave The Capital, p175
27The Big Midweek, p188
28The Big Midweek, p189
30Leave The Capital, p175